I.Legal Basics – the first unit is designed to give students a broad and deep understanding of the U.S. Legal system, both at the federal and state level.In order to delve further into the criminal law system, students must have a strong understanding of how laws are made and applied, as well as what role judges, lawyers, and courts play in that process.Most of the assignments in this unit are reading assignments in the textbook as well as many “Problems” listed within each chapter.A few other major assignments are outlined in their respective chapters below.
a.What is Law?- Chapter 1 of the textbook, “Street Law,” provides the background for a general discussion about why we have laws and what they mean to our society.
i.Discussion about why we have laws, what they do, why we value consistency and transparency.
ii.We discuss the differences b/w criminal and civil laws
iii.Discussion about the general constitutional framework, including concepts such as Limited Government, Separation of Powers, Federalism, Checks and Balances, and Judicial Review
b.Lawmaking – (chapter 2) We begin to discuss the many ways in which laws are made.
i.Four different law-making bodies – legislature, agencies, courts, international bodies
ii.Basic structure of legislatures at both the federal and state levels
iii.The Supremacy Clause and what happens when state and federal laws contradict
iv.Legislative intent and Judicial Review
v.Issues to consider when writing (or reading) a law
c.The Court System (chapter 5) – students learn about the structure of the court system
i.The three levels of the Federal system as well as the California State system
ii.Adversarial system and the different parties
iii.The role of the judge
iv.The role of the jury and how they are selected
v.Steps in a trial – a short exposure to the process; followed up in much greater detail when we get to Unit 3: Trial Practice
vi.Appeals Courts – its role and structure
vii.The U.S. Supreme court – its role and structure
d.Mediation and Lawyers (Chapter 4 and 6) – the role that lawyers play in the legal system and mediation as an alternative dispute resolution method
i.Review of the Adversarial System and how Mediation differs
ii.Code of Professional Responsibility – ethical responsibilities and issues that lawyers encounter
iii.The Attorney-client Privilege
e.Reading a Decision – Students learn how to read a decision written by a court
i.The basics of citations – what all the numbers and abbreviations mean; students should be able to recognize what level of court handed down the decision and where that court was located
ii.Precedent – how decisions affect future decisions, including what a “holding” is and what “dicta” is
iii.Dissenting and concurring opinions
iv.Briefing a case – Briefs are legal summaries of court decisions.There are two benefits to briefing a case.First, students are forced to critically analyze each part of a decision in order to brief it.Second, it allows students to summarize a case in less than a page so they can go back and review it later on without having to re-read the entire case.Students read a case in class together and then discuss how to brief it
Main assessment in this Unit is a short quiz on Legal basics.
Students will develop a strong understanding of how laws are made, the structure and role of the court system, how to read court decisions, and the specific role of the lawyer within that system.